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Friday, March 5, 2010

The Fast

Today was day one for me of the Baha'i fast. It actually began at sunset on March 1 and will end at sunset on March 20 with Baha'is not eating or drinking during the daylight hours, sunrise to sunset. But mine only began today and might not even continue after tonight.

I have been a Baha'i for seventeen years and have never successfully made it through an entire fast. Until a few years ago my metabolism was so rapid that going for more than a few hours without food was impossible for me without passing out. I couldn't drive safely, couldn't function through my busy days with young homeschooled children. I now see some of my children with the same problem, having to eat constantly all day but remaining thin as rakes. I used to be able to eat my husband under the table all the while staying very thin myself. I consumed a lot of calories and burned them all up. To anybody who questioned whether I or my children were anorexic I suggested to them that they come and join us for a meal sometime. (Why are people so comfortable challenging extremely thin people about their weight?)

That all changed a few years ago with incipient middle age and change-of-life. Things slowed down; my life, my body, my metabolism. My kids no longer made physical demands on me so now I really had no excuse. I discovered I finally could observe the fast which was a relief because I had found myself consumed with guilt every year that I consumed my way through the fast. I was painfully aware of every bite that slid down my throat throughout the daytime. My guilt was self-imposed only. My Baha'i friends urged me to relax, not to worry. But worry I did and when I could finally manage to get through at least some of the fast it felt great, restorative.

But things have changed again. Last year I broke my wrist just before the fast and we had a death in the family. Getting up before dawn every day after painful wakeful nights just wasn't an option. And I couldn't do much for myself but had to nonetheless. Feeding myself, doing almost anything for myself became an arduous task so I gave up and once again ate my way through the fast. As a primary caregiver I couldn't take a break from my duties and every task took a long time to complete left-handed.

This year poses similar challenges. My nights rarely allow me a full sleep. If I am not up to check on some problem of Michael's I am usually at least awakened a few times by his yelling and sleep-talking. I wake up fully alert and listen to the monitor that transmits every sound he makes right to my bedside, a mixed blessing. If his noises seem anxious I act promptly because to ignore him if he is in an agitated state means an even more disturbed night calming him down. If he is just chatting fairly amiably to himself and sounds calm I try to drift back to sleep but keep an ear cocked in case things worsen. They sometimes do. So trying to fast and get by on little sleep just didn't seem wise as this year's fast approached.

Then there's the problem of trying to feed myself quietly enough not to disturb Michael or the dogs who, once awake, will then make sure everyone else in the house is awake too. This morning I crept downstairs at 5 am having been awoken by Michael's noises, quietly prepared a cold breakfast and slipped back upstairs to eat it, dogs in tow to sleep on my bed so as not to wake him up completely with their stirrings. I froze with cereal spoon mid-air as Michael made a few more noises over the monitor but I was able to gulp it down in peace and even managed to grab a few minutes more sleep before Michael woke up for the day. But after only a few hours of sleep from his disturbances and little food in my system, I was a bit of a wreck all day. And bad-tempered.

So the fast will have to be a day to day thing, like everything else in our lives, requiring reassessment every morning or even every hour if I have managed to at least start the day's fasting. I'm allowing myself to sleep till I wake up (or Michael does) because for now, adequate sleep is all that gets me through my day most days. And I think I have finally reached the point of not worrying about it anymore. My understanding of the fast is that "it is only a symbol, a reminder" of "abstinence from lust" and that "mere abstention from food has no effect on the spirit" ('Abdu'l-Baha, son of the founder of the Faith).

If there's one thing a caregiver is fully aware of it's abstinence from almost anything that's fun. God will understand if I need my strength from food and sleep to do my work. I hope.

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